Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 7, 2010

Isn’t Jesus Enough?

I have debated much about whether to post these thoughts because I appreciate what other churches are doing to demonstrate and share God’s love with the people who live in our community. Our missions ministry is certainly concerned about the welfare of those who live around us. That’s why, in addition to our international initiatives, we mobilize upwards of three thousand volunteers annually to serve people in need in our own community. We invest hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in local initiatives that include caring for widows and single moms and children at risk, feeding and clothing the homeless, supporting substance abuse and crisis pregnancy ministries, underwriting the cost of a community vegetable garden that provides fresh produce to hundreds, ministering to refugees from South Asia, supporting new church initiatives, refurbishing and furnishing a safe-house for girls rescued from sex trafficking in the Houston area, and much more.

In recent weeks I have become increasingly disturbed by some of the things that churches are doing in the name of the gospel. One church promises a free gift to every first-time guest. I’m not certain how many unbelievers will be swayed to get up, get dressed, and go to a church filled with people they don’t know just to get a free gift. And, if you can attract and keep a member from another church with a gift, then …! Enough said. This is just one more reason why I am not a fan of the attractional paradigm. I believe there is something better that can attract people to the gospel — namely a person who genuinely loves, cares, and befriends others who don’t know Christ.

Then, a friend showed me a mailer from another church in a neighboring community. This church is giving away a quarter of a million dollars of free electronic gadgets, vacation getaways, bikes for kids and even a motorcycle. That’s right, they are giving away a quarter of a million dollars of stuff to people whose homes are already overstuffed with stuff. All of this to illustrate that the best things in life are free! To make this campaign even more attractive they are advertising: “There’s no catch. No weird stuff. No commitment.” Sorry, but this is all a bit weird. Are these really the best things? Is this really the ultimate giveaway? It’s my understanding that the ultimate giveaway happened more than two-thousand years ago when Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins.

As someone who is committed to mobilizing the church to be the church — to be Jesus with skin on in the community, I was stunned. Having mobilized thousands to leave the pews to engage with people in the community, I know what God can do in and through members who will give themselves away instead of trying to attract people to us by giving away stuff. My previous blog post was about asking God to break our heart for what breaks His. Is God’s heart really broken because someone does not have a high-definition television or other stuff like that? Or is His heart broken for widows and orphans and the oppressed that live among us? How is it possible to be so out of touch with the passions of God for the lost and hurting people in our workplaces and neighborhoods? The Houston area ranks at the top of the list of places in this country where young girls are trafficked and forced to work in the commercial sex trade. By some estimates there are less than one-hundred beds in safe-houses in this country for girls who are rescued from sex-trafficking. Imagine the lasting impact that a quarter of a million dollars could make in providing a safe haven for these rescued girls and in promoting justice. How can you justify giving more stuff to people who rent storage units to keep their extra stuff when we are surrounded by so much need? How can you justify that kind of stewardship?

When I was in India two months ago with more than forty of our students, I noticed that they talked only about Jesus and how wonderful He is. I told our students that at home, Christians tend to talk about everything but Jesus. However, working among the least of these and with the one-hundred-plus girls who reside at the safe-house we support in West Bengal, our students could only talk about Jesus and how wonderful He is and how He loves and cares about people and has the power to transform lives. It was all very much like the first-century when the church focused on Jesus and the importance of making a commitment to follow Him.

Something good happens when we focus on Jesus and exalt Him. Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He is the draw, not a drawing for door-prizes. Why do we think that Jesus isn’t enough and that we must bait people with stuff? I told our students in India that my prayer was that as they returned to their normal lives at home their default setting would be to talk about Jesus first and make Him the focus of their conversations. I challenged them to be Jesus with skin on and to earn the right to share the gospel by the way they love and care for others. There is something attractive about seeing Jesus with skin on — seeing someone who cares and who serves as He did.

I am not a member of the giving-away-stuff church. They are an autonomous body of believers who decide for themselves how they will relate to their community. They alone are responsible for their stewardship of funds. If they want to give away free stuff then they can give away free stuff. As for me, I will continue to challenge those under my influence to give themselves away, to look at our community as Jesus would, and to allow God to break their hearts for what breaks His. I will continue to challenge people to meet their neighbors and to meet needs. I believe that Jesus is enough and that when we exalt Him good things happen. I’d really rather have Jesus than stuff!


Responses

  1. I talk to people everyday who need financial assistance with electricity, rent, groceries and gas.
    Imagine how many people could be helped with $250,000.00!

  2. Fantastic Blog. I too have been sick about what some churches are doing to attract people. I am sure the intentions are noble and good, but what are we saying to a lost world? Does the church need a gimmick? This buys into the notion of a self indulgent and materialistic culture. May God break my heart for the things that break His Heart!

    Doyle Lowry

  3. Great post. When churches operate under the “attractional model” they miss God’s strategy for the Church. Our mandate is not to attract the world with worldly things but to attract the world by being a manifestation of the person of Jesus Christ. We are to be the body of Christ, the most attractive being in existence! It’s not enough to capture people with material things then teach them about Jesus, their mind and heart have not been prepared. We are to be the body then explain they are seeing the body of Christ. Their minds are open and their hearts are softened by the distinction they see in Christ.

    The biblical strategy is the “incarnational model”. We are not to attract people to a building but we as the church are to go out from the building to be a light to the community. Just as Jesus left the glories of heaven to seek and save the lost we too are to go out into the world with the same purpose. We are to take the message to them rather than trying to attract them to us. It goes back to the purpose of our gathering. We gather to worship and be trained. When an unbeliever is in attendance they see and hear the gospel. We then scatter into the community for evangelism and service. When an unbeliever experiences the life or service of a Christian they see and hear the gospel. Their minds are open and their hearts are soft.

    God added thousands to the number of people being saved as the church grew in the book of Acts. Its was not because they attracted people with apple pie, flat screens, short sermons, motorcycles, fun activities for kids, promise not to judge sin, iPads, or anything as such. It was because they honored God and had an effective focus on growing people into fully committed followers of Christ. God entrusted people to this group because they operated His way. The text says they continually devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and to prayer. As as a result everyone felt a sense of awe. The believers sacrificially shared their lives together and had all things in common. This is what attracts people to our gatherings, this is what communicates the gospel, this is what softens hearts and opens minds. Then the Lord was adding to their numbers daily those who were being saved. Check it out in Acts 2:42-47.

    Matt Chandler and the Village Church state it well from their philosophy of ministry statement: Attractional vs. Incarnational
    Attractional approaches to ministry are those which basically take the “if we build it, they will come” direction. These churches are typically known for their varied resources often including rock walls, coffee shops, gyms, sports leagues, etc. The idea that drives this approach is that if you can just get the people in the doors, you can keep them there.
    The Village prefers to view things not from an attractional, but incarnational perspective. Instead of ministering on the basis of people coming to us, our approach is to take the ministry to the people. Like the Son of God condescending to leave His heavenly home and dwell among those whom He loved, we want to be known for our willingness to take the gospel from within the walls of our building to affect the lives of those with whom we come into contact.

    Thanks for the post Omar. And thanks for using our resources to impact lives as a picture of the gospel.

  4. In the writings of St. John of the Cross, he identifies greed as one of the seven deadly sins. This attitude is also condemned several places in the Bible. I find it incredible that a church, which claims to promote the Bible and Jesus, would promote one of the seven deadly sins! Really!

    I want people to come to my church because the people are real. We have real problems and real joys. And Christ is a vital, wonderful part of our lives. Follow Him makes the difference, not stuff.

  5. Omar, thank you for posting your thoughts!

    You have done so much to encourage us to get out of our chairs and go DO something in the name of Christ. With even just a little personal growth in reaching out to others, it fast becomes immensely frustrating to see other believers in our community standing in the air-conditioned doorway of the church hoping someone will come on in, no matter how welcoming their open arms are.

    Keep leading and setting the example of how we should reflect our Savior — more and more will follow!

  6. Agree 100% Omar. God’s church is not the buildings we try to attract them to or the programs we design. It’s the people of God who comprise the bride of Christ that our Lord so loved that he sacrificed all to redeem her. There is room for others to be a part of this body and we need to love them as Christ loves all. As you stated, Christ doesn’t bribe. He offers only Himself and paints a realistic picture of the cost involved in being His disciple. Churches in our country are no different than marketing firms in large part, using bait and switch to get them to Jesus without actually showing people the true Christ found in the scriptures. No wonder each generation is leaving “the church” en masse. The thing is that people are still hungry for Jesus and when we serve together in community to reach the least of these, the only one who receives glory is Jesus Himself, as it should be. May Christ followers remove themselves from any association with “churches” and other things that attach themselves to a Jesus of our own design instead of the Jesus of the scriptures. May we also look long and hard at ourselves and be willing to repent and remove anything we’ve built that points others to a false Jesus, either intentionally or unintentionally. Jesus alone is enough. Thanks for the challenge Omar to be Jesus with skin on.

  7. The one thing I have learned from Jesus is that material things are not what life is about. Someone told me I was addicted to Jesus the other day and I thought well Lord if I have to be addicted to something make it Jesus. I never know what my Lord has in store for this world for when I wonder where his plans are leading he turns them in a different direction. I know Jesus does not have to give me a TV set or money or vacations. All I want from Jesus he has given me on the cross. I am not saying I agree with paying someone to come to church but whatever it takes for them to listen to the story of my Jesus! I just want them to know he paid so much for them.

  8. I love and appreciate your posting. It is truly appalling to me that so much priority inside and outside of the church is based on the abundance of things (most of which) are only remembered when we see them and are not generally used with any degree of frequency at all. This type of ungodliness brings home the truth of Zephaniah 1:18. How did it get this way? Have we lost our fear of God? Do we not understand Grace and Mercy?

  9. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:1-2
    This strategy would make Paul sick. It makes me sick. The good news in all of this, God is not shocked and has an “intentional” plan to deal with it. Let us do this same. Let us be spurred on to even more of the right things. Love you O!

  10. Hi Omar,

    The more I read your posts and hear of the amazing work your Church is doing – the more I think my family and I should just pack up and move to Katy Texas!

    I always loved the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on attraction through people helping people rather than promotional spin, and wish that there were more Churches like yours that had the same philosophy – sadly it is very rare.

    Jesus taught a very simple message and when Christians convey that message in a truthful, loving way, people will be attracted to the light we shine – promotional gimmicks are not needed.

    Nothing the world has to offer could be more attractive than Jesus!

    God Bless

  11. Is that not the way of our culture? If we can’t microwave people into the church then we are not prospering. The church is dead.

    That in fact is the lie, you cannot microwave a church that attempts to follow Yeshua. Many churches do, you might say, and they are successful in getting people in the door, but at what cost.

    What version of the Lord are they coming into worship? The One True God that is revealed in Scripture or some watered down version that people have become comfortable with.

    Well, I would offer that an encounter with the Living God would not be a comfortable one.

    The only draw to bring folks in, is Jesus, period. He is different, He paid a price, He has pursued us. To take the attention away from the Cross is to make an error in judgement.

    Proverbs 1:7 (HNV)
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.

    Let us teach and focus on the Lord, it is He that will save lives.

  12. Wow!!! I continue to be amazed at what some do in the name of Jesus. I believe that we are to go out and be a light. By just trying to get people in the door with a car, a I Pad, a bicycle or something else we are missing a lot. God can use it to change someones life but having lived in Nigeria I know quite a few ministries that could really use $250,000 and they could have such a positive effect for Jesus. For that matter there are many in Houston and the surrounding areas that are struggling to pay their mortgage or to even pay for their electricity.
    I have been a Christian for almost 10 years now and the thing that got me into a church was people who accepted me where I was and for who I was. It was because of my family and the kindness and prayers of others that I kept coming to church. I actually learned so much about who Jesus was by serving and especially by serving with little kids and learning who Jesus was through their eyes.
    We need to invite people into our church and accept them and light them see the light of Christ shine through us not only in the church but as we go out to serve our neighbors, our city, our country and the world. We are commanded to do so and I pray that we all go out and make a difference for the kingdom.

  13. Omar, your love for God truly inspires me. It motivates me to keeping growing and to keep learning.

    Thank you for being faithful and obedient.

    Casey

  14. I grew up in the church and ended up running from the church the second I was out on my own. I spent up till about the age of 30 without a personal, one on one relationship with God. All I knew was what I experienced in church. That experience included deacons telling me that I shouldn’t be in church because of the way I looked, not to converse with their children, and that I was most likely going to hell because I didn’t fit it.

    Thank goodness years later I realized I was running from the ignorance of man and NOT the love of God. As I started searching again in my 30s for a church community to be a part of, I had my own ideas and gimmicks I wanted a church to be so that I could enjoy my time there. These were some of my wants:

    – I wanted a church that had cool music that I enjoyed.

    – I wanted it to be filled with more tattoos and body piercings than Shaws tattoo parlor on a Friday night.

    – I was looking for a fun party type environment with lots of excitement.

    And this list goes on………My point to this whole comment is this: The church I finally felt comfortable with and called home for my family and I was a church that met NONE of my expectations. Truly it was a church where the PEOPLE exceeded my expectations with LOVE….not GIMMICKS. The love of the body that met me right where I was was life changing. I had already spent 30 years trying to fill the void in my life with STUFF……

    I agree…..if the church is going to meet and attract people into the church with stuff, we are missing what they are searching for. Instead we confuse the situation and maybe even slow down their healing.

    All of us who have been there know LOVE is the only way…..why do we continually try to improve on Gods perfection?

  15. Dan sent this my way…..and I am glad he did.

    Excellent blog about what really matters Omar, thank you. I’m with Amy on this one: imagine what a difference $250K could make in that community!

  16. It’s a pity that people have lost people from their focus and vision in living; never confuse the creations with the Creator, especially not to be confused with the products of the creations of the Creator!


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